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The Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation said yesterday that it will continue to enforce a mask mandate at all of its locations across the Western region of the Navajo, Hopi, and San Juan-Paiute reservations.

The move follows a Jan. 20 announcement by Navajo Nation that it would lift the mask mandate that had been in place for 1,000 days across the reservation. The order to lift the mandate included four exceptions: health care facilities, schools, nursing homes, and for those individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive for COVID-19, or who have been exposed to someone who tested positive. 

“The Navajo Nation continues to require masks at healthcare facilities across Navajo Nation due to the number of high-risk patients that visit the hospital and clinics,” Dr. Amanda Burrage, pediatrician and member of the Epidemiology Response Team, said in a statement.  “Health care facilities regularly see patients with possible COVID symptoms. Masks help prevent all respiratory viruses -- not just COVID -- and help keep healthcare workers and patients healthy and safe.”

Hospital officials explained official numbers for COVID are an undercount because our community has good access to home test kits. 

“Many patients are choosing to test with home test kits, which is a great way to test quickly, easily and repeatedly after a COVID exposure or new symptoms,” Burrage said. “If a home test is positive, patients call the COVID hotline to report the positive result and be connected to a provider for possible COVID treatment pills.” 

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While the overall number of cases is low, there was a slight increase last week that Burrage said she believes was related to recent large gatherings. She said the Navajo Nation is also reporting low numbers with 53 cases last week through hospital testing. This number also does not include people that test positive on home tests. 

“Most people who test positive are doing okay with the current COVID variants that are circulating, thanks to vaccination and prior infection,” Dr. Burrage said. “We still strongly encourage people to make sure they are up to date on their COVID vaccines, including the updated booster that we started offering in September 2022. The updated booster is recommended for everyone six months and older.

COVID vaccination is still available in the drive-up vaccine clinic near the entrance of the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation campus from Monday to Friday 8-11:30 AM and 12:30-4 PM. Flu vaccines and COVID testing are also available as drive-up services during these same hours.

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